Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Alan Turing Movie stinks

I finally watched The Imitation Game, the movie that supposedly tells the true story of mathematician Alan Turing. The true story would have been a good movie, but this was about 90% fiction. The screenwriter Moore said:
When you use the language of 'fact checking' to talk about a film, I think you're sort of fundamentally misunderstanding how art works. You don't fact check Monet's 'Water Lilies'. That's not what water lilies look like, that's what the sensation of experiencing water lilies feel like. That's the goal of the piece.
I should remember that line, and use it the next time someone catches me in a factual error.

Here are the makers describing what the movie is about:
Nora Grossman: When we were first were developing this screenplay we were very concerned with making this NOT your traditional bio-pic - not a sort of Merchant-Ivory period piece - and that was a guiding factor when we were developing the project. This was a sort of gay rights movie but also a thriller, Turing was the father of computer science and a gay man - so we wanted to draw on all the facets of this life to appeal to modern audiences - as well as World War Two enthusiasts, computer theorists, gay advocates - all kinds of people. ...

Graham Moore: This was a film about love, not a film about sex - and Alan Turing's love for Christopher is fundamental to his life. Alan fell in love with Christopher Morcom when he was a teenager and it was the great love of his life - I don't think he ever fell in love again, really, and we wanted to show how fundamental that relationship was to him. I think Christopher the person and Christopher the machine are really the sort of second character in the movie.
Turing is portrayed as a gay hero or martyr, but they sure have a funny view of that role. He never actually has sexual relations with anyone. He is portrayed as an emotional cripple as a result of some childhood bullying and tragedy. His homosexuality only comes into play as he is blackmailed by a Soviet bible-quoting spy into betraying his country and rejecting his fiancee. And in leading to his suicide 10 years later after a policeman suspects him of being a spy. Most of this is fiction.

His death was probably an accident. Supposedly he ate a cyanide apple, but no one even tested the apple for cyanide. He died a year after he completed the punishment for having sex with a teenaged boy, so it is doubtful that the events were related.

Homosexuality is secondary to being an Aspie hero and martyr. Throughout the movie, Turing is portrayed as having a mental illness that causes him to have no friends, to have no sense of humor, to not cooperate with his co-workers, to alienate his superiors, and to do silly things like separate the peas and carrots on his lunch plate. His best friend is the machine that tries German crypto keys, and he is devastated when it is destroyed at the end of the war.

Again, most of this is false. This article says humor was a big part of him. This Wash. Post article gives a glimpse of why Turing was admired, none of which is in the movie accurately.

In the movie, Turing decides to let the Germans kill the brother of one his 5 co-workers who are doing all the decoding of German messages. In reality, England had thousands on the decoding project, but none had the authority to order military attacks.

There are many scenes mocking Turing as an aspie. For example, his co-workers say that they are going for lunch, and he does not understand that they are inviting him. Of course they did not say that they were inviting him, and it makes just as much sense to interpret the scene as showing his co-workers being poor communicators. But the movie is all about Turing, so he is the one being blamed for the poor communication.

In another scene, a young Turing complains people often mean something other than what they say. This is used as a reason for him to get interested in cryptography, but it is also an Asperger stereotype. That is, Turing is the type to say what he means and mean what he says. A lot of men are like that, but in Turing it is presented as a pathology.

Some people do claim that Turing had Asperger syndrome (high-functioning autism), based on this list of symptoms:
School report described him as "antisocial"
Only one friend at school
Unable to control younger boys at school or manage co-workers
No attempt to socialise with academic superiors
Interests in science, mathematics, chemistry, codes and ciphers, nature
Always ate an apple before bed
House was cluttered with whatever he was interested in at the time
Always put the cork back in the wine bottle at the end of a meal
Often worked through the night
Wrote about his work to people with no scientific background
Stiff gaze in photographs
Lack of eye contact
Awkward appearance
Characteristic response to presentation of new ideas (stabbed fingers and said "I see, I see")
High pitched voice
Misunderstood enrolment form for Home Guard
Over-analysed colleagues' approaches
Poor handwriting
Always got ink on his collar at school
Really? How can people regard this stuff as symptomatic of a serious mental disorder? Well, not everyone does, as Asperger was removed from the DSM-5.

I know this is just a movie, but Hollywood nearly always portrays mathematicians as insane, such as in A Beautiful Mind and Good Will Hunting. No one complains about it. If you do, the common response is that mathematicians really are crazy. Or point out that Hollywood stereotypes a lot of other groups also.

The TV and movie aspie traits seem to be based on Hollywood stereotypes, as opposed to diagnosable symptoms. The TV show The Big Bang Theory has a character Sheldon Cooper who is widely regarded as an aspie, even tho the producers deny that they had any such intent and he does not match the textbook symptoms. The movie Turing is like the TV Sheldon in that he arrogantly picks fights by claiming that he is smarter than everyone else, and is a pain to everyone around him. Real-life aspies are not nearly so confrontational.

These stereotypes are apparently firmly held. I once talked to a woman who confidently asserted that Sheldon would lose custody of any child in family court, and would deserve to lose it. When I asked her why, she got all emotional and said she could not explain it, but it is obvious.

Maybe she is right, as some deep prejudices are at work here. If nerds and scientists are really such bad parents, then it should be fairly easy for statistics to prove it. But there is no such evidence. Sheldon's obnoxious traits probably would irritate the judge, but that should not change a decision, if the system worked properly. If you want to see the emotional and illogical thinking of a non-scientist mom, check out this Free Range Kids post.

The average dopey woman or psychologist would probably say that Penny would be a better parent than Sheldon. If Penny marries Leonard and he takes charge of the relationship, then maybe she would be a good mom. Otherwise, she would be a nightmare.

This movie has been widely praised as deserving of Oscars, and as promoting the LGBTQIA cause. I do not think that it helps their cause. The movie took the story of a great man, and rewrote it as a story of a man ruined by homosexuality. Homosexuality leads him to betray his country, his fiancee, and himself. He would have been much happier if he married his fiancee.

The movie's real hatred is for mathematicians. Yes, it needed fact checking. Besides all the gross factual misrepresentations, this movie does not give the feel of Turing, his work, his personality, code-breaking, or any of that. His biggest idea of the movie is to use guesses about the messages to cut down on the key search. That is the most obvious idea of all. What were they doing for their first year of work, if not that?

The real Turing was a computer pioneer who had some brilliant ideas that are easily explained. The movie would have been much better if it explained what he really did, as opposed to inventing all these crazy stories about things that never happened.

The movie is expected to get the Oscar for best adapted screenplay. That means that the critics approve of turning a factual book into nonsense. I do not accept the argument that movies necessitate such fabrications. It also got nominations in the other big categories: best picture, best director, best actor, and best supporting actress.

I get judged by judges, psychologists, and social workers who probably get their prejudices from movies like this. Thanks, Hollywood. I wish you never made this rotten movie.

Update: This movie did indeed win Best Adapted Screenplay, as expected. Here is another rant about how bad it is:
The most disappointing thing about the Oscar-nominated film The Imitation Game can be summed up in the way that Alan Turing, the brilliant mathematician played by Benedict Cumberbatch, answers his boss, Commander Denniston, when Denniston asks him why he needs to build a machine to crack the Germans’ unbreakable code.

“It’s highly technical,” Turing says, dismissive. “You wouldn’t understand.”

Turing may as well have been speaking to the audience, not just his sneering commander, because for a movie about a technological pioneer making a technological breakthrough, The Imitation Game barely deals with technology at all.

Instead of an inventor, it shows a stereotype. Instead of a machine, it shows an obsession. And instead of inspiring us to follow in the footsteps of a person who shaped technology, the film inspires us only to get out of the way of the next genius who can.
That drew this comment:
The movie got four things right!

1. Alan Turing was gay.
2. He was briefly engaged to his coworker lady friend.
3. He worked on Enigma.
4. He died after the war.

Besides that it was a complete fiction. "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" was more historically accurate. ...
Sadly, the real story is way more interesting and moved much faster than the movie.
The true story would have been a much better movie.

Update: I did not watch the Oscars. Did it really have some gay guy prancing around in his underwear? And Moore, the Turing scriptwriter, whining about how he tried to commit suicide so he was like Turing? I am glad I did not watch it.

Update: Moore's Turing acceptance speech was so gay that he had to publicly deny that he was gay. Seems to me that he could have shown his liberal cred by saying that he was bisexual or a cross-dresser or something.

Update: Moore also has White House connections:
Moore’s mother is Susan Sher, who was Michelle Obama’s chief of staff and is now coordinating the push to have Obama’s presidential library located in Chicago. But their relationship is beyond professional – they’ve been friends for years.
Update: The gays and lesbians praised Moore, until he announced that he was not gay. They were offended that he would compare gays to bullied non-gays:
But it’s also important to note that being gay simply isn’t the same as being a “geek.” Moore may see them as comparable (and, though he has identified himself as straight, his affect may have opened him up to homophobic bullying), but the truth of the matter is that the social force behind anti-gay prejudice is far stronger and more pernicious than the animus against social outcasts.
So Moore looks and acts gay, but unless he is taking it in the rear end, his concerns do not count. These people are sick.

Likewise Patricia Arquette got heat for complaining about treatment of straight white women, while ignoring all the other groups.

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